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glowing green pigs
South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, 2013. (Photo courtesy of JABSOM)

In Guangdong Province in Southern China, 10 transgenic piglets were born in 2013, and under a black light, they glow a greenish tint. A technique developed by reproductive scientists from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine was used to quadruple the success rate at which plasmids carrying a fluorescent protein from jellyfish DNA were transferred into the embryo of the pig.

Zhenfang Wu and Zicong Li of the South China Agricultural University have detailed the research that produced the transgenic pigs in an academic manuscript submitted to the Biology of Reproduction. Li is a UH alumnus. Also assisting in the manuscript was Johann Urschitz, an assistant research professor in the UH medical school’s Institute for Biogenesis Research.

The green color indicates that the fluorescent genetic material injected into the pig embryos has been incorporated into the animal’s natural make-up. “It’s just a marker to show that we can take a gene that was not originally present in the animal and now exists in it,” says Associate Professor Stefan Moisyadi, a veteran bioscientist with the Institute for Biogenesis Research.

Moisyadi said the animals are not affected by the fluorescent protein and will have the same life span as other pigs. “The green is only a marker to show that it’s working easily.”

The ultimate goal is to introduce beneficial genes into larger animals to create less costly and more efficient medicines. “[For] patients who suffer from hemophilia and they need the blood-clotting enzymes in their blood, we can make those enzymes a lot cheaper in animals rather than a factory that will cost millions of dollars to build,” Moisyadi said.

Read the School of Medicine’s story for more.

—By Tina Shelton

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